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  • 1. Introduction to Breathing for Brass PlayersWhy Practice our BreathingAir is the fuel of our Brass instruments and we use enormous quantities of it. It is possible toimprove our breathing technique away from our instrument and therefore it is highly beneficial topractice our breathing. Learning the correct processes of breathing with simple and regularlyperformed exercises will produce results that are directly transferable to the instrument and overtime become automatic replacing old and inefficient breathing patterns.The benefits include deeper and more relaxed inhalation, improved air support, tone and dynamics,as well as maximized lung capacity and greater breath control.How We BreatheYour lungs are located within your chest cavity inside the rib cage (Figure 1). They are made ofspongy, elastic tissue that stretches and constricts as you breathe. The airways that bring air into thelungs (the trachea and bronchi) are made of smooth muscle and cartilage, allowing the airways toconstrict and expand. The lungs and airways bring in fresh, oxygen-enriched air and get rid of wastecarbon dioxide made by your cells. They also help in regulating the concentration of hydrogen ion(pH) in your blood.When you inhale, the diaphragm and intercostal muscles (those are the muscles between your ribs)contract and expand the chest cavity. This expansion lowers the pressure in the chest cavity belowthe outside air pressure. Air then flows in through the airways (from high pressure to low pressure)and inflates the lungs. When you exhale, the diaphragm and intercostal muscles relax and the chestcavity gets smaller. The decrease in volume of the cavity increases the pressure in the chest cavityabove the outside air pressure. Air from the lungs (high pressure) then flows out of the airways tothe outside air (low pressure). The cycle then repeats with each breath. Inhalation – When the intercostal muscles and diaphragm relax, we exhale. The ribs fall downward and inward, and the diaphragm springs back into a dome shape, gently squeezing the lungs and pushing air outNick Etheridge, November 2010 Page 1 of 6
  • 2. Exhalation – When the intercostal muscles and diaphragm relax, we exhale. The ribs fall downward and inward, and the diaphragm springs back into a dome shape, gently squeezing the lungs and pushing air out.Start by RelaxingThe first thing we do to prepare for more efficient breathing is relax. Many players struggle withtension and poor posture which inhibits relaxed and efficient breathing. Some players mistakenlyassociate tension with effort. Do not be afraid to relax, when we relax our body is able to functioncorrectly.StretchingIt is highly beneficial to develop a simple stretching routine that addresses the areas that areinvolved in the mechanism of breathing. These include the arms and shoulders, back, chest andabdomen. The purpose of this ‘warm up’ is to loosen the muscles in preparation for deep relaxedbreaths and should be performed in a gentle, relaxed and pleasurable fashion.Gentle neck rolls, shoulder stretches and shoulder shrugs are all good exercises for loosening upalong with arm swinging.Arnold Jacobs Stretching Exercise No. 11 Fill lungs to the count of 5 while raising arms above head2 Drop arms on count 53 Retain the air with an open throat4 Gradually exhale5 Do this exercise in front of a mirror with 6 repetitions6 After a week, do this exercise in 3 counts7 After another week, do this exercise in 1 count8 RestA Word of Caution – While gentle stretching can be highly beneficial caution must be taken not toexceed your physical limitations that may lead to injury. Never hold your breath while performingeither stretches or ‘loosening up exercises’ and if uncertain about what you are doing seek guidancefrom your teacher for what may be appropriate for you and your instrument.Nick Etheridge, November 2010 Page 2 of 6
  • 3. PostureGood posture establishes a good daily working practice which not only aids your breathing but yourperforming as a whole. Good alignment is essential. If you are sitting the feet should be firmlyplanted on the ground. The back must be straight and away from any support like the back of a chairwhich encourages a poor slumping posture. The Back and neck must also be straight and upright.Twisted necks and back are full of tension and can have long term consequences for the performer.This is frequently true for Tuba players whose posture can over time be subtly pulled out ofalignment by the uncomfortable or unnatural shape of an instrument. Bad posture over long periodsof time can eventually be debilitating and has ended many a performers’ career.Seek guidance from your teacher on good posture while practicing and performing, bearing in mindwhat feels right and what you have always done may not be the best position to play in.Relaxed BreathsWhen we breathe we should always aim for a smooth, even and relaxed breath with a constantlymoving air stream. Smooth meaning a stream of the air stream without bulges or shaking Even meaning to move the air stream evenly over a given amount of time, ie inhale for four counts and exhale for four Constant meaning that the air is constantly moving like the action of pair of bellows in and out.Do not think about where you are inhaling into, think only of expansion. Inhale fully and think ofbreathing simultaneously throughout your respiratory system. This means that you should not thinkof filling from the bottom up or the top down, but rather simultaneously throughout. Although largebreaths may sometimes appear to be partially regional, it is generally not helpful for the brass playerto consciously induce regional breathing. It is far better to simply focus on inhaling large quantitiesof air with good posture and to allow your body to function naturally.Tip Only use the first 80% of your lung capacity while performing. Exhaling further causes tensionand can impede full inflation of the lungs.Always Breathe from the MouthA few performers have the bad habit of breathing through the nose. Brass players who breathethrough the nose are generally unable to get a quality breath. Inhalation through the nose is alsoslower and less efficient. Adopt a “WHOA” shape in your mouth when inhaling.Listen to Your BreathsWhen you breathe deeply listen to the sound of your inhalations. This will give you a good indicationof the movement of air and the resistance it is meeting as it moves in from your lips, teeth, tongueor throat. Make your breath as silent as possible, noise is resistance.An efficient breath is not loud, ‘breathy’ or hissy. The throat should be relaxed and open, tongue flat(think of a yawn and it will flatten correctly) and the mouth open just enough to inhale withoutconstriction and remember the “WHOA” shape in your mouth when taking in air to play.Nick Etheridge, November 2010 Page 3 of 6
  • 4. The DiaphragmIt is a common misconception that the Diaphragm plays an active part in the breathing process. Thisleads to misconceived phrases like “breath or support from the diaphragm”. The Diaphragm is aninvoluntary and convex muscle and behaves like the elastic surface of a trampoline. It is pusheddownwards upon inhalation as air floods the lungs putting pressure on it and in turn moves backupwards upon the release of the air. We cannot interfere with this involuntary action. Duringexhalation the intercostals, abdomen and lower back muscles will engage to assist in expelling theair.Basic Breathing ExercisesThere are multitudes of breathing exercises that have been developed for Brass performers over thelast 30 years. I will outline a selection of classic exercises that have proven their value and have beenendorsed by the finest performers and educators. 1. Exercises to develop deep full breaths 2. Exercises to develop rapid replacement of breath 3. Exercises to maximize lung capacityAll these exercises are excellent to create awareness of and movement of air. Maintain a constantand even flow of wind as these exercises are performed.Development of Full BreathsSet your metronome to 60 bpm for the following exercises.Fill your lungs with a deep relaxed and smooth inhalation. Be conscious of the movement of air asyou inhale and exhale. Listen to the sound of your inhalation remembering the sound “WHOA”. Donot strain, this should be an enjoyable experience.Tip Always keep the air in moving; do not pause before the exhalation when the lungs are full. Thebreath should be one continuous movement of air. Remember the sound “WHOA” when inhaling.Basic ExercisesBreathe in very deeply over 4 beats and exhale over 4 beats (repeat several times)In 2 Out 2 In 2 Out 2In 4 Out 4 In 2 Out 4In 6 Out 6 In 2 Out 6In 8 Out 8 In 2 Out 8RestAs proficiency increases, more advanced exercises may be attempted.Nick Etheridge, November 2010 Page 4 of 6
  • 5. Further ExercisesBreathe in very deeply over 4 beats and exhale over 4 beats (repeat several times)In 4 Out 12 In 3 Out 15In 4 Out 20 In 3 Out 30In 1 Out 10 In 4 Out 20In 1 Out 20 In 4 Out 40RestExercises to Develop Rapid Replacement of BreathThe practice of rapid replacement breaths is most effective when the previous full breath exerciseshave been practiced and reasonably mastered.Inhale and exhale fully for all of these rapid replacement breath exercises. Begin with a slow tempothat is comfortable for you and then repeat with gradually faster tempi while maintaining efficient,comfortable breathing.Strive to achieve a 100% replacement at each inhalation point. Experiment with a variety of tempiand eventually progress to the 7/4 and 8/4 versions of the exercise.Example In the 8/4 exercise breathes on beat 8. In the 5/4 breathe on beat 5. Remember tomaintain a constant and even flow of air as you exhale.Do not attempt all these exercises in session, gradually work through them over several weeks.Time Signature Beats in each bar8/4. 123456787/4. 12345676/4. 1234565/4. 123454/4. 12343/4. 123RestExercises to Maximize Lung CapacityThese exercises will help you gradually utilize your full lung capacity, but take care that you performthese within your capabilities. Do not either force or strain into your lungs. Your ability to fullyexpand will take time, patience and practice.Remember that in regular performance the breath is never held and the inhalation and exhalationis one continuous smooth movement of air.Nick Etheridge, November 2010 Page 5 of 6
  • 6. Basic ExerciseIn 2 Hold 4 Out 2In 4 Hold 4 Out 4In 6 Hold 4 Out 6In 8 Hold 4 Out 8RestAdvanced Exercise – With ‘Tops Up’ BreathsThe ‘top up’ breath is like inhaling an extra sip of air into your lungs before breathing out. As thisexercise becomes more familiar it is possible to increase the number of top ups to 2 or 3 beforebreathing out. Again caution must be taken to ensure there is no staining or forcing of air into thelungs.In 2 Hold 4 + top up Out 2In 4 Hold 4 + top up Out 4In 6 Hold 4 + top up Out 6In 8 Hold 4 + top up Out 8RestConclusion – Basic Concepts to RememberInvesting time in developing a good breathing technique will benefit all aspects of your performance.Good breathing underpins all quality performance and will repay you for your investment manytimes.Remember when you return to your instrument to forget the exercises you have practiced,repetition will gradually make theses breathing processes automatic and transferable directly toyour instrument.Allow the music to breathe, the great Tuba artist and educator Arnold Jacobs described music as“song and wind”. Use your breath to create beautiful sounds and musical shapes and this will enableyou to become a better musician and communicator.Supplemental ResourcesHoward Snell: The Trumpet – its Practice and Performance (Rakeway Publications)Arnold Jacobs: Song and Wind by Brian FredericksonThe Breathing Gym (DVD and Text) by Patrick Sheridan and Sam PilafianBreathe – Books 1-3 by Paul ArchibaldNick Etheridge, November 2010 Page 6 of 6